HIV/AIDS research has come a long way. Gone are the days when those infected with HIV had no hope of survival. The total number of new infections per year, which peaked globally in 1995, and the HIV-related deaths, which peaked in 2005, are on the decline, thanks to increased awareness and effective medications like antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Finding a cure for AIDS has been elusive. That said, there is always some hope as a new study aimed at finding a magic bullet to cure HIV has shown some promising results.
In a first, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) have eliminated HIV-1, the virus responsible for AIDS, from the genomes of living animals using a technique called LASER ART and subsequently with CRISPR-Cas9.
What is LASER ART?
LASER ART, or long-acting slow effective release antiretroviral therapy, refers to long-lasting medications made possible by pharmacological changes in the chemical structure of the antiretroviral drugs.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9, which is an abbreviation for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9 is a genome editing tool.
Mice were engineered to produce human T cells susceptible to HIV infection. After HIV infection was established in the mice, they were treated with LASER ART and subsequently with CRISPR-Cas9. Analyses of the viral load at the end of the treatment period revealed complete elimination of HIV DNA in about one-third of HIV-infected mice, according to the researchers.
Commenting on the findings, Kamel Khalili, senior investigator of the study, said, “The big message of this work is that it takes both CRISPR-Cas9 and virus suppression through a method such as LASER ART, administered together, to produce a cure for HIV infection. We now have a clear path to move ahead to trials in non-human primates and possibly clinical trials in human patients within the year.”
The study is reported online in the journal Nature Communications.